In 1529, the year that Martin Luther prepared the Small and Large Catechisms, he wrote the classic Reformation hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Luther wrote:
Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us . . .
There are no new tricks in the devil’s arsenal. He needs none. He stays with the tried and the true. “Has God said . . . ?” By that question he introduces false doctrine into the world and into the church. “You shall not surely die.” By that bald-faced lie the devil succeeds in creating indifference in sinful man who thinks that he shall live forever, or at very least that he need not be responsible for his actions. “Your eyes shall be opened, and you will be like God . . .” So the devil creates conflict between man and God; man thinks that God is not treating him fairly, or that somehow he knows at least as much as God, if not more.
The reaction of Adam and Eve to the presence of God in the garden changed. They lied! “I was afraid because I was naked . . . .” Their sin was not their fault. “The woman whom you gave to be with me . . . .” “The serpent deceived me . . . .” It is not our fault. It’s yours.
So how are we different? “The problem in my family is not my fault . . . The problems in the church are not my fault. . . . I am not responsible for the evil in the world. I am a victim, not a perpetrator.” Dear reader, look at yourself in the mirror. The face you see in the mirror of the Law is yours. The roaring lion you see behind you is not after another. He is after you!
Nevertheless, we are bold to sing:
We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will . . .
Those words of this treasured hymn can be sung confidently and with meaning by such as have faced the reality of personal sin, who then have been drawn to Christ to find mercy. Yes, the face you see in the Gospel is that of your Savior. The battle is no less strenuous for such as see His face (it may be even more so), but the outcome is assured. The scowl of the evil one, so menacing to us in the weakness of our flesh, turns into the scowl of apprehension and frustration for he knows what we know when we believe the Word. Christ Jesus was manifested “that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Therefore:
He can harm us none, He’s judged; the deed is done; One little Word can fell him.
If we would continue in the confidence of victory over the devil, we will joyfully heed the Word of God. For the Word alerts us to the wiles of the evil one; it minces no words about our sinful condition. The Word shows us the Savior who has by His grace taken our sin on Himself, acquiring for us the forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation. And while we wait for the ultimate fulfillment of the Father’s gracious promise, the Word is our continuing shield and weapon against the foe.
This Reformation season will be meaningful if we remember that it was really about nothing other than the Word and its restoration to the central focus of the church. For without the Word of God, nothing else could have been in focus.
In the words of another hymn of Luther: “Preserve Thy Word, O Savior, to us this latter day . . . .”
–Pastor Daniel Fleischer